Championship experience may not be the panacea for every team in all cases, but it was certainly valuable Monday afternoon when the Dallas Mavericks found themselves in an expected tussle with the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Mavs led for the majority of the game, but suddenly found themselves down 91-89 with 4:01 remaining following a 3-pointer by Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley. Facing one of the league’s most physical teams in a hostile environment, the Mavs could have wilted under pressure and faded down the stretch.
The Mavs instead showed some of the same pedigree that helped them win the 2011 NBA title. They used their championship experience, fought fire with fire and outscored the Grizzlies 14-4 down the stretch in winning 103-95.
Dirk Nowitzki, the MVP of the 2011 NBA Finals, tallied eight of the Mavs’ final 14 points. Tyson Chandler, who was chairman of the boards in that 2010-11 season, had three of his game-high 16 rebounds in the final 2:28.
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And Rajon Rondo, who helped Boston win the 2008 NBA championship, scored four points during the final 3:48 to help the Mavs hold off the Grizzlies.
In essence, while the Grizzlies were 1 for 10 shooting down the stretch, the Mavs showed the type of poise and grace under fire of which champions are made.
“I know from experience down the stretch, when we were in some tough games [in 2011] and we were down and down big late, we stuck together and we were able to pull them out,” Chandler said. “I know Rondo, just watching from his years in Boston, they pulled out some grinding games when it looked like they weren’t going to win them.”
The Mavs are discovering that’s what teams with championship aspirations do. They huddle up and find a way to grind out important victories.
That’s what the Mavs were able to do against the Grizzlies, and that’s what they expect to do against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night at the Target Center.
“When Conley hit the 3, it could have been the dagger, we could have laid down and it could have started some type of run for them,” Rondo said. “But we stuck with it, we dug deep and we got stops defensively and we came up with some big plays offensively.
“The experience is definitely big in a clutch game like this, especially if the game is going back and forth down the stretch.”
The Mavs were in dire need of a victory against one of the top Western Conference teams because they haven’t fared well in that department this season. The way they clamped down on the Grizzlies, therefore, was duly noted.
“That’s how you’ve got to execute against a very good team, especially on the road,” said Nowitzki, who scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half Monday. “We need Tyson in there to be factor like he was in ’11, and we need everybody rotating for each other and I’ve got to be better down the stretch than I [was] in the month of December.
“I’m starting to feel better again. I’ve just got to take advantage of it, and we’ve got to take advantage of what they give us. This is something that we can build on, but the thing about this league is you can never let down.”
That’s the reason the Mavs (29-13) want to come out and not let Minnesota (7-33) believe it has a shot at pulling the upset.
“You’ve got to always feel like you’re in a game and always feel like you can win it,” Chandler said. “Really, unless you’ve been there and done it, you don’t quite understand it.
“And we’ve got enough guys on this team that have been there and done it. We’re not easily rattled.”
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760